Dr. William Husel is suing Mt. Carmel Health System and its corporate parent Trinity Health for defamation. Last June, he was indicted for murder in the deaths of 25 critically ill patients he was caring for. He pleaded not guilty and said in the suit the patients died of their illnesses.
The hospital fired him in late 2018 after a chart review determined he had prescribed excessive doses of the powerful opiate fentanyl as high as 1000 to 2000 mcg. The standard dose of fentanyl in a monitored setting such as the operating room or post-anesthesia care unit is 50 to 100 µg IM or slow IV over 1 to 2 minutes. A total of 48 nurses and pharmacists associated with medication administration to an involved patient were reported to their respective licensing boards. The hospital also reorganized its ICU’s physician, nursing, and pharmacy leadership.
A pharmacist and nine nurses have sued the hospital claiming Dr. Husel did nothing wrong, and “hospital executives were unaware of appropriate standards of care for patients at the end of their lives.” One might assume the hospital executives hired physician experts to perform the review of his records.
At least 30 wrongful death lawsuits have been filed by patients’ families against the hospital, which has so far settled a number of them for a total of $13.5 million. “Attorneys for many of those [families] argue that Husel rushed their decision to remove their loved ones’ care. To them, the patients’ rapid declines and often quick deaths at the hospital seemed inexplicable.”
Last January, the Columbus Dispatch investigated Husel’s background. He was a high school basketball star and team captain whose coach said he was a good student.
While attending Wheeling Jesuit College in West Virginia, he pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge involving storage of a pipe bomb in a dorm room. He eventually detonated it in a campus trashcan and tried to frame someone else for the crime. He obtained a microbiology degree at Ohio State University and graduated from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2008. While he trained in internal medicine and critical care at the Cleveland Clinic, he had a clean record. He started working in the ICU at Mt. Carmel in 2013 and was named doctor of the year in 2014.
An unnamed nurse who worked with him said he was very intelligent and he liked to teach. The highest fentanyl dose he ever ordered her to give was 200 µg which she gave after reviewing the patient’s record. When asked if she would have ever given a patient 1000 µg, she said her reaction would have been “Have you lost your mind? Did you mistype a zero?”
The lawsuit says, “It would not be an exaggeration to state that Dr. Husel has suffered perhaps the most egregious case of defamation in Ohio’s recent history.”
Guilty of murder or victim of defamation?
Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chair and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and a surgical sub-specialty and has re-certified in both several times.For the last 9 years, he has been blogging at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweeting as @SkepticScalpel. His blog has had more than 3,700,000 page views, and he has over 21,000 followers on Twitter.